Province to make it more difficult to build near flood zones

The New Brunswick government could begin refusing to issue permits for new construction and repairs in flood zones in a bid to reduce the huge costs of water damage in the future.

Building permits could start being refused if conditions aren't met

Cottages along the St. John River were destroyed by the historic flooding in early May. (Submitted)

The New Brunswick government could begin refusing to issue permits for new construction and repairs in flood zones in a bid to reduce the huge costs of water damage in the future.

The province announced Wednesday it will introduce new requirements for people applying for watercourse and wetland alteration permits so they can build near rivers, streams and brooks.

The so-called WAWA permits are already required for construction within 30 metres of waterways, but they'll now be conditional on builders showing the project can withstand flood damage in the future.

"The goal of the new proposed measures is to reduce the likelihood that a building or its contents will be damaged during a flood, and can reduce the cost of repairs if damage does occur," said Environment and Local Government Minister Andy Harvey.

Environment and Local Government Minister Andy Harvey announces new requirements for people applying for building permits near waterways. (CBC)

That could include requiring the structure to be raised or moved.

"Some of it's common sense," Harvey said. "If you're flooded in 2018, and if you're rebuilding, I'd think you'd want to make sure you're protecting your own family, your own property for the future."

He said the new criteria will also help avoid repeated compensation claims at public expense.

"We need to do this to protect taxpayers, too, in the future."

No guarantee of a permit

Emergency Measures Organization director Greg MacCallum said "it's no longer good enough just to repair back to pre-disaster conditions."

Harvey also said people should not take for granted that they'll be allowed to build at all. "There's no guarantee that if you apply for a WAWA permit, you're going to get it."

He announced the new requirements at the same time he revealed the province will cover up to $6,100 for flood cleanup by the owners of cottages and other recreational properties.

Harvey described the new permit criteria as a way of ensuring that this year's compensation won't create a precedent, with the same cottage owners becoming repeat recipients after future floods.

"It's taxpayer money, so we're trying to be fair, we're trying to be reasonable," he said. 

Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, speaks to the media. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"We're trying to understand the situation that these recreational property owners need some help. ... And after that they need to make other decisions as families and and as individual New Brunswickers to rebuild, to restore, to relocate whatever that may be, to higher ground, potentially."

MacCallum said while "we're not there yet," pushing people to move out of flood zones is "certainly part of the discussion with regard to how we administer [Disaster Financial Assistance] programs going forward in the future."

Province to foot bill

The $6,100 in cleanup funding will cover costs such as hiring contractors to take away debris. Cottage owners must contact the province and must document both the impact and what they spend.

The province had been considering a lower amount, $4,050, but decided at the last minute to increase it.

Harvey said it's believed about 2,000 recreational properties have been affected around the province. At a maximum payment of $6,100, that would mean a total cost of $12.2 million, but "we won't know until the update and the calls come in."

Historic floodwaters swallow a cottage in the Grand Lake area. (Submitted)

Because matching federal disaster relief funds do not cover recreational properties, the cottage funding will be covered entirely by the province.

He said Wednesday's announcement had nothing to do with the Liberal re-election campaign that will be underway in a little more than three months. "It's not political at all," he said.

Harvey also said the province will have to update its flood modelling to account for increasingly frequent flooding.

"It's pretty obvious we're past 100-year floods," he said. "It's something we as a province need to be getting prepared for it in a more detailed way now and in the future. But we are. We're moving toward that."